Plot: Katie (Olivia Cooke) is a waitress at a rural truck stop diner, but she has plans to start a new life in San Francisco. She tries to support her erratic mother and even overlooks her constant problematic behavior, as she wants badly to believe her family can still be redeemed. In order to escape the dusty trailer park, Katie needs cash and since the waitress position doesn’t provide a windfall, she turns to prostitution to pick up extra funds. Her kind nature prevents her from really cashing in, charging a few dollars here and there to local men. Despite the situation, she remains upbeat and unshaken, certain it will lead to a better future. But when she meets a guy she develops real feelings for, her world starts to turn upside down, especially when her past looms and threatens her future.

Entertainment Value: This is a character driven movie that takes place in a grounded, bleak atmosphere, but gives us a lead that refuses to be crushed by that world, even if it rarely relents. The narrative is simple and the kind of “escape small town” tale that has been told countless times, but the focus on characters and a slant toward a realistic, believable environment helps this one stand out. The writing in Katie Says Goodbye is natural and effective, populating this small town with characters that seem real, while assembling a remarkable cast to bring them to life. The cast delivers and seems to run with the well developed characters, with even the more minor ones given at least a little time to flesh out. The pace is deliberate, but never slow and each scene is used to build more into the characters and their relationships, so minimal filler here. If you like dramas rooted in real life scenarios, Katie Says Goodbye should scratch that itch, as this feels like a slice of small town from start to finish. I thought this was a well crafted, well performed drama that earns a solid recommendation.

I have to be honest, I was beyond impressed with Olivia Cooke here, who turns in a performance that surpassed all of my expectations and then some. I’ve seen some excellent work from her in the past, such as her masterful turn in Thoroughbreds, but this was such a natural, believable effort. Her ability to convey hope even in the most emotionally brutal moments, even as the world stomps all over her, is impressive and she really elevates not only her character, but the entire movie. She can take small moments and make them radiate emotion, such as the brief scenes with Bear, which some of the movie’s finest sequences. I think Katie Says Goodbye is worth a look just for her performance alone, but the rest of the cast is also quite good and the ensemble brought together here is terrific. Jim Belushi has a small role, but his scenes are superb and he makes a complicated character work so well. His scenes with Cooke are the movie’s best moments to me, as the two really get across why this relationship is so crucial to Katie, despite the unusual circumstances. The cast also includes Chris Lowell, Mart Steenburgen, and Christopher Abbott.

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